Why Haitians are Taking to the Streets Against President Michel Martelly

Why Haitians are Taking to the Streets Against President Michel Martelly
Anti-Michel Martelly protesters have taken to the streets in recent weeks

AFRICANGLOBE – At great personal risk, Haitians demonstrated massively in cities throughout the country on Sept. 30 and Oct. 17, calling for President Michel Martelly to step down. Both dates commemorate important coup d’états in Haitian history.

By choosing these historically significant dates, the Haitian grassroots majority is clearly saying they want an end to the 10-year military occupation that has followed the coup that overthrew elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004. Martelly’s police force brutally broke up some demonstrations with tear gas and beatings.

Demonstrators have reported the police used a very “powerful” gas, which surprised them in its potency and aerial reach.

In late October, students in Cap Haitien, demonstrating to support teachers demanding an increase in pay, were tear gassed so viciously that 60 were injured, four seriously.

The next day, students in the State University of Port-au-Prince, demonstrating in support of attorney Andre Michel, were gassed for hours, even after they had been pushed back to their campus. It went on so long that some legislators went on the radio to demand that it be stopped.

On Nov. 6, lawyers marched in Port-au-Prince demanding an end to threats and harassment for those willing to take on cases involving Martelly’s corruption. They also called for the resignation of the chief prosecutor.

And on Nov. 7, thousands marched, chanting “Aba Martelly” (“Down with Martelly”). Haitian police attacked the demonstration with tear gas and beatings. Three people were shot and wounded.

1. Who is Michel Martelly? Martelly grew up during the 27-year dictatorship of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, Jean Claude “Baby Doc.” He reportedly joined the Duvalierist death squad, the Tonton Macoutes, at the age of 15 and later attended Haiti’s military academy. Under Baby Doc, Martelly, a popular musician, ran the Garage, a nightclub patronized by army officers and members of Haiti’s tiny ruling class.

After Baby Doc’s fall in February 1986, a mass democratic movement, long repressed by the Duvaliers, burst forth and became known as Lavalas (“flood”), from which emerged Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular liberation theology Catholic priest, who was elected president in 1990 with 67 percent of the vote in the first free and fair election in Haiti’s history.

Martelly quickly became a bitter opponent of Lavalas, attacking the popular movement in his songs played widely on Haitian radio.

Martelly “was closely identified with sympathizers of the 1991 military coup that ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,” the Miami Herald observed in 1996, and ran with members of the vicious FRAPH death squad from that period, infamous for gang rapes and killing with impunity.

On the day of Aristide’s return to Haiti in 2011, after eight years of forced exile in South Africa and two days before the “run-off” election, Martelly was caught in a video on YouTube insulting Aristide and Lavalas: “The Lavalas are so ugly. They smell like s**t. F**k you, Lavalas. F**k you, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.”

2. The fraudulent presidential election of 2010-2011: In the presidential election cycle of 2010-2011, Haiti’s Electoral Council banned Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas Party from participation, which de-legitimized the whole corrupt process. Voter turnout was less than 25 percent in the primaries and less than 20 percent in the “run-off.”

The top two candidates announced after the primaries were the wife of a former pro-Duvalier president and the son-in-law of Rene Preval, the president at the time. Martelly was declared third, but his supporters demonstrated violently.

An OAS commission, with the full support to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who flew to Port au Prince at the height of the Egyptian revolution, ruled that Martelly had finished second. He received $6 million from an anonymous donor in Florida to hire a PR firm that had worked on the campaigns of Felipe Calderón in Mexico and John McCain in the U.S.

3. Corruption: Corruption scandals have followed Martelly since he refused to divulge who funded his campaign for president.

  • Bribes – Award-winning Dominican Republic journalist Nuria Piera broke the story in April 2012 (later reported in Time) that Martelly was alleged to have accepted $2.6 million in bribes during and after the 2010 election to ensure that a Dominican construction company would receive contracts under his presidency. In addition, the vote to make Laurent Lamothe the prime minister is known in Haiti as the “tout moun jwenn vote” (“everyone got their cut” vote).
  • Surcharge on international calls and money transfers for “education” – Questionable new taxes have also fed controversy. A $1.50 tax on money transfers and a 5 cent per minute tax on phone calls to Haiti are alleged by Martelly to support education, but the poor majority continue to face unaffordable school fees, and critics say no money from this tax has gone to schools. Moreover, Haitian teachers have been marching to demand back pay. Martelly’s new taxes were not ratified by or presented to Haiti’s Parliament, making them illegal.
  • Travel expenses – When traveling, which he does often, Martelly’s entourage receives an outrageous per diem from the Haitian government. According to Sen. Moise Jean-Charles, Martelly gets $20,000 a day, his wife $10,000 a day, his children $7,500, and others in his inner circle get $4,000 daily.
  • A plan to establish an illegal parallel customs system to circumvent legislative control – This allegedly involved the selling of a membership card and gun to anyone who wanted to be part of the Martelly gang. The membership privileges included tax-exempt status at customs. The program had to be scratched when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration complained about members facilitating drug transport on the strength of their membership.

4. Rewriting and undermining Haiti’s Constitution: The overthrow of Baby Doc in 1986 led to the creation of a new democratic Constitution in 1987, ratified in a referendum by an overwhelming majority of Haitians. It recognized Haitian Kreyol as an official language, along with French, and legalized Vodun, the spiritual practice of the majority of Haitians. It provided for grassroots participation in national decision-making, decentralized the nation’s finances and political structure, and provided for protection of human rights.

On June 12, 2012, Martelly announced new amendments, which concentrate executive power and herald the return of Duvalier-style dictatorship. The new illegally amended Constitution, written by non-legislators and never seen nor voted on by the Parliament prior to its publication, creates a top down method of choosing a Permanent Electoral Council to run elections, undermining grassroots participation and centralizing control from above.

Part Two